It’s usually nothing to worry about, but here are some reasons when you should talk to a doctor about your abdominal bloating . The swelling is, fortunately, usually just an annoyance. Your belly swells and you feel uncomfortable, but you move, drink some water or sleep and it disappears. You attribute it to your next period or something you ate, such as broccoli, beans, or too much fruit. However…

5 signs that abdominal bloating could be serious

Occasionally, swelling can be a sign of a more serious illness. For example, it may be one of the first symptoms women notice of ovarian cancer .

In a recent survey, the UK charity Target Ovarian Cancer found that only 34% of women would speak to a doctor if they were swollen regularly. 50% said they would change their diet. An earlier survey by the same group found that only 20% of women knew that swelling could be a symptom of ovarian cancer.

Feeling bloated in itself is not enough to signal cancer. There are other things to look for that can help you distinguish that discomfort from bloating deserves medical attention.

These are the symptoms that you should consult with your doctor:

Pain

Swelling from ovarian cancer is caused by a buildup of fluid (called ascites) in your abdomen, and it can also cause pain. It can also be the result of blockages in the lymphatic drainage system or intestinal obstructions.

Painful bloating could also indicate a bowel obstruction, a blockage in the small or large intestine that prevents food from passing through.

Abdominal swelling that does not go away

For swelling to be potentially of concern, it generally has to have lasted more than two weeks in a month, says Monique Swain, MD, an OB-GYN at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit .

If the swelling doesn’t go away after making simple diet changes or going to the bathroom, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention.

Changes in bathroom habits

Another clue that swelling could be a sign of ovarian cancer is a change in bathroom behavior. Unusual urinary or bowel problems can be a suggestion that something is wrong.

For example, you may suddenly have to go to the bathroom more urgently “if a mass is large enough and it presses on the bladder,” says Dr. Swain.

Appetite changes

Swelling can also be a sign of other cancers, such as breast, pancreas, colon and stomach cancers, if the cancer appears along the lining of the abdominal cavity, says Dr. Cobb.

Large masses that take up a lot of space in the abdominal area can cause changes in appetite, such as feeling full very quickly or not wanting to eat. Some people with swelling due to cancer also experience nausea and vomiting.

Fatigue

Liver disease, which can be caused by alcohol consumption, hepatitis C, cancer, and more, can also cause swelling and fluid build-up.

“Typically this is a slow, insidious process where you only start to feel it in your lower abdomen,” says Dr. Hewlett. “As it progresses, your belly becomes more and more distended with the liquid.”

If your swelling is due to liver disease, you may also feel tired, bruise easily, or develop jaundice, a yellowish tint to your skin and eyes. “Seek medical attention if there are other symptoms associated with swelling like these,” adds Dr. Hewlett.

Congestive heart failure can also cause bloating, not only in the abdomen, but also with swelling in the legs.

In both heart failure and liver disease, swelling is often a later symptom of the condition. “Once you have bloating and fluid retention, it can mean that the disease process affecting your liver or heart is advanced,” says Dr. Hewlett. It is important to talk about your symptoms sooner rather than later.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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